Re-representing the city: Waste and public space in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the late 2000s

Parizeau, K.

Go to article

Parizeau, K. (2015). Re-representing the city: Waste and public space in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the late 2000s. Environment and Planning A, 47(2), 284–299.

Argentina , Buenos Aires , Informal Recycling , Neoliberal Urbanisms , Public Space , Waste Management

This paper investigates a moment of shift in urban neoliberal governance strategies under the purview of a new municipal Chief of Government of Buenos Aires at the end of the 2000s: the introduction of a regime of public space that has had implications for the waste management sector (and particularly informal recyclers or cartoneros). I document government attempts to re-represent the city as a modern, hygienic centre that is receptive to investment and tourism, drawing on discursive framings of public space that seek to redefine legitimate users and uses of the city. Such framings are exclusionary of cartoneros and other marginalized urbanites. As with most forms of actually existing neoliberalism, this regime is contradictory and unstable, both containing and provoking challenges to its coherence. This case study of ‘actually existing neoliberalism’ in Buenos Aires encourages analytical focus on moments of shift and renewal in urban processes of neoliberalization. In this case the shift marked by the introduction of the regime of public space reveals the priorities and agendas of urban elites as championed by municipal governments, makes visible the paradoxes and contradictions inherent to neoliberal urbanisms, and also exposes openings for resistance, opposition, and renegotiation of urban neoliberal agendas (including protest, discursive reframings of the city and its uses, and the forging of indeterminate alliances).

Main finding
This study focuses on sidewalks, curbsides, and municipal waste commons as places where neoliberal governance of public space occurs in the city. Through studying informal recyclers (carteneros) in the city, the author uncovers two paradoxes: 1) neoliberal 'public' space invites people to a civic space but excludes people at the same time and 2) anti-state neoliberal strategies require increased state intervention - in this case by formalizing the city’s carteneros. Renegotiations and the role of informal workers, within capitalist accumulation, brokered allegiances that benefited both the neoliberal government and the carteneros. The latter produced a space for renegotiating neoliberal agendas through protests, reactive discursive framings, and imperfect alliances.

Description of method used in the article
Field research and interviews (from 2007-2011) with key-informants (e.g. government workers, local academics, NGOs, community organizations, and cartenero cooperatives) and surveys of 397 carteneros plus interviews with 30 of those informal recyclers (cartoneros) were conducted. The analytic framework was based on concept of actually existing neoliberalism from Brenner and Peck (2009).

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations